Andres Iniesta has described his shock move to Emirates Club as an “important adventure” in his celebrated football career after he was presented as the UAE side’s star signing on Wednesday.
The former Barcelona midfielder, one of the most decorated players in history, joined the Ras Al Khaimah club on a one-year contract with the option of another year.
Iniesta, 39, had spent the past five years in Japan with Vissel Kobe. He left the club on July 1, midway through the J-League season.
A World Cup winner with Spain, Iniesta represents arguably the most high-profile signing in UAE football history. He joins an Emirates Club newly promoted to the Adnoc Pro League, with the 2023/24 campaign kicking-off next week.
Iniesta was introduced to media and supporters at the InterContinental Hotel in Mina Al Arab, and said: “I’m very happy to be with you today. I’m very glad to make the acquaintance of [club chairman] Mr Yousef Abdullah Al Batran and his team; they showed me the project for the future and I’m very happy to be part of it.
“I like to thank all my friends, family and my team who are with me. This adventure is very important for me, this challenge after many years with Barcelona in Europe and after that I left to Japan. But today I am here with you.
“It‘s a memorable moment for me and my family. We’re looking forward to living here. I will do all my best with my teammates to play good football and to get good results.”
At Vissel, Iniesta made 134 appearances, winning the Emperor's Cup in 2019 and the Japanese Super Cup the following season.
However, he is best remembered for his hugely successful time with Barcelona, his boyhood club.
During 22 years at the Spanish giants, a spell that spanned 674 appearances, Iniesta captured 22 major trophies, including nine La Liga titles, four Uefa Champions Leagues, the Copa del Rey six times and three Fifa Club World Cup crowns – the first of which came in Abu Dhabi, in 2009.
With Spain, Iniesta won 133 caps and helped the team to a first World Cup title in 2010 – he scored the winning goal in the final – and European Championship glory, in both 2008 and 2012.
“I will do all possible to promote youth football, especially with the children in the academy,” Iniesta said. “I will give all my support, all my time to improve them and to make them happy, and also to see good players for the future here in Ras Al Khaimah and in the UAE.
“We wish to do all our best for the future of Emirates Club.”
Iniesta, who was accompanied at the press conference by his wife and five children, was widely tipped to continue his career in the US with MLS club Inter Miami alongside former Barcelona teammates Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.
Iniesta's career in pictures
“After finishing the journey in Japan, many clubs contacted me,” Iniesta said. “But in the end my purpose was here with Emirates Club and Mr Yousef, the president.
“Always in my life I was looking to expand my horizons. Today I am here with Emirates Club and, as I said, I want to give all the possible work and effort to help my team achieve success.”
Emirates, whose most notable trophy to date remains the 2010 President’s Cup, begin the new season away to Al Wasl, on August 19.
Sitting beside Iniesta on Wednesday, Al Batran said: “Iniesta will stay more than one year here in Ras Al Khaimah; this is my promise. It’s not only about the football experience. Of course, the contract is one year, renewable, but Andres will stay for us many long years.
“Today I see the happiness in the eyes of everyone to see the legend Andres Iniesta with us. We welcome him here in Ras Al Khaimah and we’d like to thank our wise leadership here and in the UAE for giving all the importance to the youth and to sports.”